Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

What’s In Your Mascara? November 8, 2010

Ever wonder what the ingredients in your make-up actually do?  Ever wonder how your mascara is able to lengthen, thicken, and/or darken your lashes?  Ok – well maybe you never did wonder, but I’m here to explain anyhow.  I was looking through the latest issue of Wired magazine and came across the following article: What’s Inside: CoverGirl LashBlast Luxe Black Royale Mascara.  The article breaks down the key ingredients in this mascara and explains what each ingredient is meant to do.  Personally I found it very interesting so I thought I would share with my readers:

Disteardimonium Hectorite
This molecule is like a squid with a nitrogen body and fatty alcohol tentacles. Hectorite, a powdery volcanic clay, coats the tentacles, giving them bulk and a positive charge. Since hair has a negative charge, the molecule sticks to lashes, making them seem thicker.

Propylene carbonate
A “safe” and environmentally friendly solvent, this keeps the other ingredients from separating. It’s a polar molecule, meaning that each end of it has a different electrical charge that attracts and repels different materials. But it is also aprotic, meaning it can’t release protons, which could react with those other components in the mascara.

Iron(III) oxide
Don’t wear mascara to a cranial MRI! There is so much of this dark black metallic pigment here (as much as 10 percent by weight) that its ferromagnetic properties can screw up the images, creating a splotch over your eye that the doctor will interpret as melanoma. Why is it here? Think “shiny.”

Dry, brittle lashes can break off, taking up to nine months to grow back. The jury is out as to whether panthenol makes hair grow, but everyone agrees that lashes can at least be conditioned and moisturized by this precursor to vitamin B5, making them less susceptible to snapping in two.

Paraffin and carnauba wax
Paraffin comes from a refinery, carnauba comes from the Brazilian rain forest, but both help carry the various pigments as well as artificially lengthen and thicken the eyelashes.

This stuff is a thickener and emulsifier and also lowers the surface tension of the mascara, allowing it to adhere to the brush and the lashes.

Ammonium acrylates copolymer
Listed as “practically nonirritating” when tested on the eyeballs of live rabbits, this emulsifier and pigment disperser gives a nice glossy coating to the eyelash and enhances flexibility under the weight of all that iron oxide.

Bismuth oxychloride
Another pigment with strange magnetic properties. Thanks to variations in the thickness of the oxide layer, this compound creates that shimmery pearlescent look on each eyelash. (This effect used to come from guanine, which is probably how the “bat poop in mascara” rumor got started.)

Dichromium trioxide
A dark-green pigment with odd paramagnetic effects like its cousin, CrO2, a coating for audiotape. Highly resistant to heat, light, and chemicals, this stuff could theoretically be formulated to make your eyelashes reflect infrared light — just like the best military camouflage.


I hope everyone found this interesting.  Personally I’ll be looking at my mascara differently from now on.


%d bloggers like this: